A Seriously Funny Story

February 8, 2013

It was a serious story told with a sense of humor. For the serious part, Peter was held in prison about to be executed by Herod Agrippa I. Security was tight. Herod had four squads of four soldiers each to take turns guarding Peter around the clock. Peter was in prison bound with chains sleeping between two guards, when an angel appeared. The chains fell from his hands. The angel instructed him to get dressed, put on his sandals, and follow him.

Peter thought he was seeing a vision. They passed by the first guard, then the second guard, and finally they were to the iron gate leading to the city. The gate opened for them automatically. When the angel left him, Peter realized that he had really been through a most unusual prison break. It was a humorous realization, but a serious situation to be on the run from Herod Agrippa and his soldiers.

Remaining free was also serous business, but the story continues with some humor. Peter went to the house of Mary. The servant girl, Rhoda, was so excited by Peter’s arrival, she left him standing in the street! So much for trying to remain out of the sight of the authorities. The people inside praying for Peter’s release were convinced that Rhoda had it wrong. “It is his angel,” they said. While all of this was going on, Peter continued to knock. When Peter was finally admitted to the prayer gathering, “they saw him and were amazed.”

We read the account and wonder: why didn’t they believe what they had been praying for had come true? They knew the reality of prayer is that we don’t always receive what we pray for. God is not a cosmic vending machine: insert earnest prayer and the requested answer immediately dispensed. The Apostle James had already been executed by Herod Agrippa. No doubt this same group had earnestly prayed for him. God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we would choose.

Their faith is seen in praying even up to the eleventh hour. (God’s rescue of Peter was just in time delivery.) They did not doubt the importance of prayer even if they had an initial surprise of Peter actually being at the door. They did not doubt the importance of prayer even if previous prayers had not been answered in the way they wished.

We must pray in the same way. God has invited us to ask and to intercede for others. But this is a relationship, not magic. We trust that the heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts. We trust even when the answer is what we don’t want. God will grant the strength to cope. Luke could tell this story with good humor, because he trusted the God who is in ultimate control of history.


Necessary Trials

October 20, 2010

Peter acknowledges the reality and grief caused by trials (1 Peter 1:6). He makes an interesting observation about them with this phrase — “if necessary.” What are necessary trials?

What if we began each day with the opportunity to opt in our out of trials? My guess is that all of us would opt out. But many trials do not give us a choice. Illnesses and injuries are the kind of trials that once we have the problem, we can’t opt out of it. We must see the illness or injury through. It is like being on the first big hill of a roller coaster and saying, “I want off.” The only way off is to finish the ride.

But some trials do have an opt out possibility, and I think it is those trials with which Peter is concerned. They are the trials in which to stop the pain the Christian might be tempted to compromise or abandon his faith. Peter provides us with a number of scenarios in his letter that fit these situations.

Peter pictures Christians who are slandered (2:15), mistreated (2:18, 3:17), and maligned (4:4). He uses the example of Christ’s suffering to prepare these Christians for their own trials (2:21, 3:18, 4:1). He warns them “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you” (4:12).

So what is a necessary trial? It is one in which to be true to our faith and to Jesus, we must suffer the trial. We must do good even if someone is doing evil to us. We must not revile if reviled. Evil is overcome by good not by returning evil in kind. We must maintain the integrity of our faith at all costs.

What happens when we endure trials with faith? Peter compares our faith to gold that is tested in the fire. When gold is put in the fire, what is really gold remains, the impurities are burned off. Such testing proves gold’s genuineness, but it also makes it more pure. The same thing happens to faith when it is tested by trials. Faith that can face the test is genuine faith. Faith that is tested is stronger, purer faith.

None of this sounds pleasant, but Peter reminds us that trials are temporary — “for a little while” (1:6). Trials may have seasons to them. I trust God to prevent me from being tempted beyond what I can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). But anything we experience in this life is temporary in comparison to eternity. Heaven is worth it all.

May our faith be found genuine when faced with necessary trials.


Wrapped In Hope

October 14, 2010

Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor who were experiencing trials. They were like “exiles” (1:1) in their own home towns. They felt the tension of being in the world but not of the world. Interestingly enough, Peter’s first discussion of trials in this letter is wrapped in a message about hope.

Hope deals with what is yet unseen. It is more than just wishful thinking as we will see, but it still deals with what has not yet arrived on the scene. (See 1 Peter 1:8) We love Jesus even though we do yet see him. We rejoice even though the salvation of our souls has not yet completely arrived. Hope aids us on our journey into the unknown. Without hope, we might be overwhelmed with discouragement and be defeated by the Evil One.

Although hope leads us into the unseen, hope is grounded in something very sure. The basis of hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (See 1 Peter 1:3) I trust in the historicity of that event — Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection — because of the eyewitness testimony. I am convinced by the great transformation of their lives. Even the persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, was converted. Old Testament prophecies pointed to this event. Historical sources outside the New Testament confirm the basic storyline of the narrative. The message of Jesus provides the basis of my hope.

Hope also has security. What we hope for is guarded in heaven. It is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. (See 1 Peter 1:4) I have witnessed on TV the destruction of the tallest buildings in our land. Vandals have defaced important places, and I’ve seen the ravages of time bring fading glory to special places in my life. But my inheritance will experience none of those things. It is guarded by God.

But this security has a second part. Christians are also guarded by God through faith. (See 1 Peter 1:5) The fact that we are guarded through faith means that the protection continues only as long as we continue in faith. Yes, I can fall away from God, but that doesn’t minimize the protection. I know that I won’t be tempted beyond what I can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). I believe God will provide the strength for me to face all situations (Philippians 4:13). And I know that no one can take my inheritance from me (Romans 8:37-39).

Trials are real and painful (1 Peter 1:6-7). Yet they are not the last word. Peter’s message about trials is wrapped in hope.